Expensive Jeans: Scam or Denim Umami? [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 13/30]

Levi's 514: Good enough because they're already great.

Levi’s 514: Good enough because they’re already great.

This is day 13 of a New Year’s Resolution.

I’m a little burned out on the subject of death and grief, so let’s talk about denim and the reality of expensive jeans.

Jeans generally go into two categories: way too expensive and meh.

On the one hand, this great land of our is piled high with cheap, uninspired, mass-produced denim. It’s made, bought and donned with very little fanfare. And it doesn’t need to be that way.

On the other hand, walk around any menswear boutique and you’ll find jeans which cost almost much as a suit. And while there’s nothing wrong with dropping $250 on a pair of jeans per se, the nature of denim implies, well, a certain practical accessibility. There is something a little off about the concept of ungodly expensive jeans.

I know that much of the the world, every seventh grader, and all of Los Angeles disagrees with me. But millions of styley folks roll their eyes at the price tags. To misquote Macklemore: $200 on jeans — I call that getting tricked by a business.

Unless…you get something for the money.

So what are the options. What could you possibly get?

Possible answers: you get A) a better look or B) you get higher quality.

Let’s analyze. 

The following thing I say is not a boast. The following thing I say is a fact: I get compliments on my jeans all the time. People ask what they are. Where I got them. How much they were. And the answer is that my jeans, my quotidian, put ’em on and wear ’em with absolutely everything jeans are Levi’s 514. I got them at a Buffalo Exchange for $25.

So, to answer the question: Can I get a better look for $200? Probably not.


Indigo: the most beautiful color in all of cloth-dom.

On the other hand, for about $100 more than “regular” Levi’s, you can bag one of the upscale side-brand Levi’s called Made and Crafted. It’s a problematic name. All jeans are made and crafted. Everything is made and crafted. But these are made in U.S.A.! (Insert happy, excited emoticon). And/or Turkey. (Insert sad emoticon). The website attempts to explain the premium cost by explaining that Levi ‘s Made and Crafted are:

  • Our premium quality denim is woven in the USA, Japan and Italy
  • The Levi’s “Arcuate” is stitched behind the pocket–gradually apearing [sic] with wear (apparently their high price tag wasn’t high enough to allow the company to retain a proofreader for their website).
  • We use real indigo and other natural dyes
  • Every garment is cut, sewn and finished using the best methods available.

Does this justify the $169 cost? To begin with, that figure is low for premium, gourmet denim, but still about $100 more than Levi’s “normal” jeans. In that sense, it still sounds like getting “tricked by a business.”

But I wasn’t sure. So I got a pair from a website that allowed easy returns. 

And here’s what I learned.


Behold the selvedge: might signify high quality denim. Certainly looks awesome. Only visible if you cuff.

Denim Umami

Really great jeans are not just about how they fit, it’s also about the quality of the color and also something I’d like to call Denim Umami (or maybe Denimami?). In food, Umami is the lip-smack “yum” that makes you want to eat the whole bag.

Great jeans have undeniable umami.

And while I love my Levi’s 514, when I slid into the Made and Crafted, I could feel the Denimami. It felt like I was wearing something much more savory. With satisfying crunch. The details caught my eye: the stitching a little more solid. Bold. The seams a little more bad-ass.

But what made an impression on me was the undeniable beauty of the Rigid Indigo denim, itself. Not everyone likes rigid jeans. They take a while to break in, they’re a little stiff for a while, and they drape differently than the soft jeans you wear when you lay on the sofa, watching the game. 

But the rigid indigo Made and Crafted managed to blur rugged with class, rough with refined, no-frills with fine-finish – just as my favorite foods are often rustic, executed with excellent ingredients, and served with a subtle panache (along with something crispy or crunchy, every few bites).

Rigid Indigo or Indi-Go Home!

Rigid Indigo or Indi-Go Home!

The Harsh Reality

If spending $170 dollars on an article of clothing you will wear more than anything else you own (maybe more than everything you own, combined) and will have for years is something you can relate you, you’re a candidate for some Made and Crafted. But some caveats:

  • If you don’t want Indigo or Indigo Rigid denim, save your money.
  • If you don’t want to turn up your cuffs to show off the selvedge denim – the usually red or blue stripe running up the inside seam – save your money.
  • If the style you want doesn’t have a selvedge edge (not all do) – save your money.
  • If ‘Murca and products made here aren’t important to you, then go find another place to live! U.S.A! U.S.A! (And Turkey.)

Ultimately, if after reading this it’s not abundantly clear to you that you need Made and Crafted jeans – if my description of Denimami didn’t make any sense to you, or you rolled your eyes at any time, then take my advice: save your hundred bucks and wear a great pair of “regular” Levi’s — jeans that are good enough because they’re already great.

It doesn’t take a “Jeanius” to figure that one out…

Two Uncles In My Genes: 30 DAYS OF WRITING. EPISODE 10/30

chairThis is day 10 of a New Year’s Resolution.

If you’re keeping up with this 30 day write-o-rama, you know I’m in Milwaukee doing the serious business of grieving the passing of my Uncle in the way that Jews do: we eat. We tell stories. We nag each other.

My father and mother picked me up at the airport, we bought some frozen custard (my Uncle’s favorite), and we brought it to my Aunt and Uncle’s condo. There, in the living room sat my Uncle’s chair. I suppose it’s no longer actually my Uncle’s living room or my Uncle’s chair, but memories linger. Old Jewish texts describe the soul of the deceased person leaving the body and kind of… hanging around for a while. The mourners say kaddish (the original, not the Ginsberg poem), we’ll wait a year before we dedicate a tombstone — we make space for those who are gone to be “not gone.” 

Which in turn reminds me of the joke: What’s the difference between how Jews and Goyim say goodbye? Goyim leave without saying goodbye, but Jews say goodbye and don’t leave.

Well, jingoistic jokes aside, my Uncle was there, and when I said goodbye (and left), I shouted to the room full of relatives: goodnight everyone, see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Uncle David.

billAnother Uncle visited me tonight, one who’s been gone/not gone a long time. My Uncle Bill died suddenly, over ten years ago – I got the call while I was leading a group of 9th graders on a ropes course.

Supposedly, I am a lot like him. He had an odd-ball sense of humor, adored jazz, and was nimble with a drawing pen.

When my parents and I got home from the shiva, tonight, they told me they had a gift for me. Inside a flat package was a picture frame, and there, in black and white, was a well-dressed man. My parents had found the old photo in a drawer and had it restored and framed.

“We know that family is very much about sharing genes,” said my father. “But it’s also very much about sharing jeans.”

tieandsweaterbillselfonlyv8Behold the family resemblance. Scary, huh? The striped sweater, the jeans, the wide cuffs.

To my Uncle David; may every comfy chair I sit in remind me of you. And to my Uncle Bill, may every joke I tell be… off the cuffs.

Ten Things I Wish I’d Known About Style, 10 Years Ago: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION — 30 DAYS OF WRITING. EPISODE 6/30

I've learned a few things since 2005.

I’ve learned a few things since 2005.

This is day 6 of a New Year’s Resolution.

Most of what I know about Style comes from the past five years, but I started paying attention to what I wore about ten years ago. Here’s a list of 10 things I wish I’d know about style, 10 years ago, and in this list, I focus not on the trends of the time, but of basic principles that never change.

1. When you wear a t-shirt or a polo shirt, keep it slim and don’t tuck it in.

2. Wear socks with contrasting, strong colors and regular patterns, rather than trying to find socks that match your clothes.

3. Sportcoats and blazers cannot be too long for your torso length. Long blazers make you look like you’re wearing a magician’s outfit. I know you think you know what blazer size you are, but you might not. Go to a tailor and get measured before buying anything.

4. You might go through a “buying lots of clothes” phase before you figure out your style and dial in the fit. Take the advice of people in design and “fail forward.” That means lower the stakes early on. Don’t spend too much. Buy only stuff on sale, at resale boutiques, and deep-clearance.


Socks: You shouldn’t shy away from bold colors, but that doesn’t mean they should have funny, little pictures on them, either.

5. The worst person to tell you what looks good on you is the guy in the store. Even nice salespeople are salespeople. Buy stuff you can return and show it to someone at work.

6. The order with which to #StyleUp your look is:

  1. Haircut
  2. Shoes (styley-casual)
  3. Shirt
  4. Jeans
  5. Tie
  6. Blazer
  7. Belt, Socks
  8. watchesAccessories / Watch

7. If you’ve had the same glasses for more than 5 years, it’s time for something new.

8. One quality garment you’ll be proud of is worth a giant mountain of sub-par garments you’ll never wear.

9. Carry a stain-stick in your man-bag.

10. Know that you won’t nail the look you want right away, and that even when you’re a little off, you’re still doing something life affirming, something which takes genuine courage: quitting the act that you don’t care how others see you.

What Tailoring Teaches Us About Growing Up: New Year’s Resolution — 30 Days of Writing. Episode 5/30

This is day 5 of a New Years Resolution.

Until I was 35, I’d never taken anything to a tailor.

Well, that’s not exactly true – I got a vintage suit when I was in college, but the pants draped down over my shoes, and the jacket was too big. But my parents orchestrated (and paid for) the whole thing, so I don’t feel like that counts.

Behold: the majestic shirt of non-fittage. Circa 2008.

Behold: the majestic shirt of non-fittage. Circa 2008.

But when I was thirty five, I got this brand new, awesome — (pauses to consider name of color) — burnt-umber colored shirt. And while I loved it on the hanger, when I put it on, I didn’t feel “classy” or “dapper” or even particularly grown-up. In fact, I felt like I used to when I was 14, and would borrow my dad’s shirt, tie, and jacket for Rosh Hashana services.

At first, I chalked this feeling off to a delinquent Saturn Return.

But I started to notice: in rooms full of well-dressed adults, say: a gala banquet — it didn’t matter what color my shirt was, or how cool my shoes were, or how well I matched my tie to my shirt, I seriously never felt like I belonged. 

One day at work, I asked a very dapper friend if he could direct me to the store that sells the shirts that fit. His response?

Do what grown-ups do, and go get your shirt tailored.

Ok, so he didn’t mean the burnt-umber atrocity, per se. That thing needed to be phased out, stat.

But I did pick out a few respectable shirts and I brought them to a place that Yelp reassured me wouldn’t ruin them, and one week later, I put on this newly tailored white shirt. Nothing special about the shirt. White. Buttons. But I noticed something profound.

It fit. I fit. I fit myself, if that makes any sense. With a decent tie and shoes, I’d be comfortable in any board-room (or bar-room) in this glorious land.

My friend Luke, who has a Ph.D. and a way with words, once described his feelings about moving away from the community he’d grown close to for several years, and did this by referring to his basketball shoes: “These shoes fit so well, I don’t even feel them. In fact, it’s hard to tell where my foot ends and the world begins. That’s how I feel about you all.”

Yes, indeed. Well fitting clothes, like a well-fitting community, help you feel united with yourself, and connected to the world.

Weird, but true.

Warning: if the shoulder seams don't hit right at the shoulderbone, it's hopeless. Give the shirt to someone who needs it more than you do.

Warning: if the shoulder seams don’t hit right at the shoulderbone, it’s hopeless. Give it to someone who needs it more than you do.

FAQ about Tailoring Your Shirt

Q: What will this so-called tailor do to my beautiful shirt?

A:  Shorten the sleeves (even a great tailor cannot lengthen sleeves), de-blousify the upper arms (my neologism, there), and get rid of the tenting, billowing, and poofing in the back. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re a lucky guy who fits stuff right off the rack, and no offense, this article isn’t for you.

Q: What will it cost to turn a shirt that doesn’t fit into a miracle of Joie de Vivre?

A: 20-40 bucks.

Q: What? The whole shirt cost me thirty bucks!

A: Ok, so here’s the deal. If the shirt fits right off the rack, great: Bob’s Your Uncle. But if it doesn’t fit, you need to do a little calculating. Is the $25 shirt from H&M worth tailoring? Only if you can’t stand how it fits, but you couldn’t live without it. You know, like the U2 song.

So, maybe you have a nice Brooks Brothers or J.Crew shirt but the fit is a little off. Better to spend $40 on a perfect fit, or go out and find something else that fits better off the rack? Do the math. What’s your time worth?

Q: So when I buy a shirt, I might want to calculate the cost of tailoring into the cost of the shirt? Seriously?

A: You want to feel that one-with-everything feeling or not?

New Year’s Resolution: 30 Days of Writing. Episode 4/30: We Love the Plain, White T-s. The shirt. Not the band.

Do Not: Smoke. Do: Wear a Plain, White T

Do Not: Smoke.
Do: Wear a Plain, White T

This is day 4 of a New Years Resolution.

Under no circumstances should you spend $50.00 on a T-shirt, and probably not even half of that.

I know that the entire metropolitan LA area is full of men sporting incredibly expensive t-shirts. Meanwhile, every-college campus is full of men sporting beaten-up concert t-shirts.

You want to be classy, styley, and not spend money on a garment that should cost almost nothing. What should you do?

Answer? Wear a plain, white T.

Clean. The smallest size you can before you’d call it “tight” (otherwise known as “slim).

This t-shirt costs $400. Is that any more crazy than $50?

This t-shirt costs $400. Is that any more crazy than $50?

Here’s proof.

  • Wear a t-shirt with a band or abstract design on it. Show it to someone. Ask how it looks.
  • Answer? “Fine.”
  • Put on white t-shirt. Clean. Slim-fitting. Show to same person. How does it look?
  • “Hot.”

You spent five dollars on a t-shirt that bagged you a major compliment. You win.